If you like riding your motorcycle, you better wear your helmet the next time you venture onto the road. Make sure the person sitting behind is wearing one too as the traffic police have started a campaign to enforce this law and have promised to take strict action against all motorcyclists without the safety gear.
The 'helmet-compulsory' drive will be kicked off by the Karachi traffic police from June 1. The campaign hopes to bring down the ratio of head injuries in traffic accidents. Public sentiment is, however, against the drive as they feel it only aims to provide helmet vendors and traffic police personnel an opportunity to loot people. Several people claimed this was just another drive to extort money out of motorcyclists ahead of Ramazan.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the Karachi traffic police warned all motorcyclists to ensure they have helmets on their heads or be ready to pay the fine. The statement stressed that not just the rider, but the ones sitting behind him would also have to wear safety helmets.
According to a traffic police official, Muhammad Idrees, who is a reader to the Traffic DIG Amir Ahmed Shaikh, three people cannot ride a motorcycle as per the law. "But usually we give the commuters benefit, considering the shortage of public vehicles," he said.
The 'helmet-compulsory' drive will be for everyone. Violators will be fined Rs150, under Section 89-A of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1965. This law says that no person shall drive, or ride the pillion seat of a two-wheeled motor vehicle except when he is wearing a crash helmet. "Even children on motorcycles will have to wear helmets," he stressed. He admitted, however, that it will be difficult for the traffic police to enforce the law for women. "Our culture and psyche will be a hurdle in compelling women to wear the helmet," he said.
The city's prime location for helmet vendors, Akbar Road in Saddar, was bustling with activity on Wednesday. Ever since news of the campaign was aired on Tuesday, people ran to the market. According to Zakir Babu of Najum Autos, their sales for helmets have witnessed a dramatic increase since Wednesday morning. He feared that if the panic buying continued, the vendors will soon run short of merchandise.
According to one of the young buyers, Ejaz, who claimed to have made his way to the market after watching the news on TV, the prices of helmets had doubled overnight. "The Chinese-manufactured helmets, which cost around Rs500 to Rs700 on Tuesday, now cost Rs1,200," he pointed out, adding that the traffic police had provided the helmet vendors a way to loot the public.
Meanwhile, Road Traffic Injury Research and Prevention Centre's accident investigator, Irfan Saleem, claimed that almost 70 per cent of motorcycle accidents without helmets turned out to be fatal.
Facilitating street crime
In Karachi, helmets and motorcycles have become essential tools for street criminals and target killers. Urban Resource Centre's Zahid Farooq advised the government to introduce transparent helmets, so that the face of motorcyclist can be recognised. He was of the opinion, however, that the law should not be ignored for fear of criminals taking advantage. For his part, the Traffic DIG said it was not his job to monitor muggings and target killings in the city. "My job is to think of the roads and ensure the safety of the people using these roads," he justified.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2015.
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